September 30, 2001
Overview of lots of action during the
legislature's first week back
SUMMARY OF RECENT EVENTS
There has been a lot of action important to our effort to win a strong and effective Ontarians with Disabilities Act this week. Here is an overview:
* On Tuesday, September 25, 2001, during a speech in the Legislature outlining his Government's fall agenda, Premier Harris clearly committed to bring forward the Ontarians with Disabilities Act this fall. He stated:
"We want Ontario to be a province where all citizens are offered opportunities and can participate freely in society. We must build on what has already been done and continue taking steps toward our goal of making Ontario as barrier-free as possible. This fall we will introduce legislation that would continue to tear down the barriers faced by those with disabilities in our province." Read the full text of the Premier's statement at this link
* Toronto Star Queen's Park columnist Ian Urquhart referred to the Premier's statement in his September 26, 2001 column. He wrote: "As for other issues, Harris offered a grab bag of leftovers, including teacher testing, a crackdown on biker gangs, legislation to guarantee the rights of the disabled, protection for the Oak Ridges Moraine and some sort of vague plan to curb urban sprawl." The full text of this article is set out below.
* Back on August 30, 2001, Liberal Disability Critic Ernie Parsons wrote to Citizenship Minister Cam Jackson. Mr. Parsons supported the ODA Committee's call for a barrier-free process when the Legislature considers the Government's ODA bill, including public hearings on the bill. See the text of that letter below.
* On Tuesday, September 25, 2001, Liberal Disability Critic Ernie Parsons made a statement in the Legislature calling for the Government to provide TTY access for persons who are deaf, deafened and hard of hearing, when they want to contact the provincial government for services that others can access e.g. through toll-free 1-800 numbers. Mr. Parsons referred to the need for the Ontarians with Disabilities Act. Read the full text of the at this link
* The need for a strong, effective and mandatory Ontarians with Disabilities Act was again made evident on Thursday, September 27, 2001 when Premier Harris announced a potential new $9 billion commitment for federal, provincial and municipal spending on public transit, and the establishment of new Smart Growth Councils to help oversee initiatives such as public transit development. The need for the ODA was shown by what the Government's announcements did not say. They did not require that no new tax money be spent to create barriers in public transit against persons with disabilities. They did not require the Smart Growth Councils to make sure that "smart growth" includes "barrier-free growth." We need a strong and effective ODA to do this. See the Premier's news release below.
* On Thursday, September 27, 2001,two opposition MPPs tabled petitions in the Legislature, signed by members of the public, which call for improvements in the Ontario Disability Support Program. These petitions referred among other things to the Government's longstanding failure to bring forward the Ontarians with Disabilities Act. See below a sample of these petitions below, as introduced by Liberal Steve Peters, formerly the Liberal disability critic.
* A September 28, 2001 article published by the American Press news wire service brought attention to an important disability issue arising from the horrible terrorist attacks on the U.S. on September 11, 2001. That article, set out below, explains the need for plans to be made to provide for safe rescue of people with disabilities from buildings in the case of an emergency. This kind of planning forms part of the ingredients of a barrier- free Ontario which the Ontarians with Disabilities Act is needed to address.
There are now only 54 days until the November 23, 2001 deadline for the enactment of a strong and effective Ontarians with Disabilities Act, which the Harris Government committed to honour.
THE NEW energy and ideological zeal that infused the Conservative
government last spring appears to have evaporated over the
In a "state of the province" address to the Legislature
yesterday, Premier Mike Harris outlined the government's fall
agenda - a limp collection of previously announced initiatives
and promises to "review" issues and "consult" Ontarians.
Even the looming economic crisis brought on, in part, by the
terrorist attacks on the United States - whose consumers account
for one-half of Ontario's gross domestic product - did not stir
Harris to action.
While Harris embraced the rhetoric of a "strong economy" - the
phrase appeared repeatedly in his speech and in the backdrop for
his subsequent press conference - he offered no new measures to
ensure that it is so.
Instead, we were assured that the government believes the effects
of the terrorist attacks will be "short-lived."
Oh, we were also told that "during small business month
(October), the government will recognize the important role that
they (sic) play in our economy."
And we were reminded that a new task force on "competitiveness"
would be launched. That was first announced in last spring's
As for other issues, Harris offered a grab bag of leftovers,
including teacher testing, a crackdown on biker gangs,
legislation to guarantee the rights of the disabled, protection
for the Oak Ridges Moraine and some sort of vague plan to curb
There was one new initiative, although it was only hinted at in
Harris' speech: The province is getting back into the transit
business. The specifics will come tomorrow, when Harris is
expected to announce that his government will take back
responsibility for GO Transit from the municipalities.
But completely unmentioned in Harris' speech yesterday were such
ideological measures as privatized health care and education.
On health care, whereas the government pronounced endlessly last
spring on the "unsustainability" of the publicly funded system in
its current form and the need to consider alternatives, yesterday
there was no such talk. Instead, Harris boasted about how much
the government is spending on health ("close to $24 billion this
year alone") and urged Ottawa to spend more itself.
On education, whereas last spring the government legislated tax
credits for private schooling, yesterday Harris offered
assurances that public schools will have "the resources needed to
He also announced plans for a "parent satisfaction survey" asking
the question: "What can we do to make our education system
It was, in short, a middle-of-the-road speech that could have
been given by Bill Davis, although his delivery likely would have
In some ways, this is a welcome sign that the pragmatists have
regained the upper hand in the Harris government. It appeared
earlier this year, with the resignation of Ernie Eves (unofficial
leader of the cabinet's pragmatic wing), that the neo-
conservative ideologues were in charge. Last spring's Throne
Speech and budget seemed to reflect that in their aggressive tone
But if the ideologues are on top, they somehow failed to get
their message into yesterday's speech. That is reassuring.
More troubling is the apparent lack of alarm inside the
government about the economy in light of the terrorist attacks.
Liberal Leader Dalton McGuinty tried to engage Harris on this
subject in questions following the Premier's speech.
McGuinty noted that last spring's budget forecast 2.2 per cent
GDP growth this year, a figure that is highly unlikely to be
achieved in the wake of Sept. 11.
But Harris deflected the questions over to Finance Minister Jim
Flaherty, who dismissed McGuinty's concern.
"We're on track (with the spring budget forecast)," insisted
Flaherty, although no outside economist is in agreement with him.
To cheers from his side of the Legislature, Flaherty then issued
the standard Tory rejoinder in any debate on the economy: "We
don't need any lectures from Liberals about how to manage the
Managing the economy - as opposed to health or education - is,
indeed, supposed to be the Tories' strong suit. They consistently
score high marks for this in public opinion polls.
But if their heads remain firmly planted in the sand on the new
economic situation, this asset could soon be turned into a
HARRIS TEAM ANNOUNCES $9 BILLION TRANSIT PLAN: NEXT PHASE IN
TORONTO -- Mike Harris, Ontario's Premier, joined by four of his government's cabinet ministers, today announced a 10-year, $9 billion plan to ensure the province has a transit system that will help strengthen the economy and protect the environment. This new transit funding is part of the government's overall vision for Smart Growth and transportation planning.
"Our new $9 billion transit plan will keep Ontario's people moving quickly, safely and efficiently," said Harris. "By investing in transit, we're helping people spend less time stuck in traffic and more time where it really counts -- at home with their families."
The government's plan is based on:
An investment of $3 billion from the province over 10 years; An acceptance of the federal government's proposal to participate in municipal transit infrastructure funding -- with an expected matching contribution of $300 million annually; Creating a new partnership in which the municipalities' share of transit capital is reduced from 100 per cent to one-third -- through their own annual investment of $300 million; Developing partnerships with the private sector that will add to the $9 billion in public sector funds; Establishing a new Smart Growth Council for the Golden Horseshoe --one of five new councils that will develop plans and help direct infrastructure investments across the entire province; Taking back responsibility for GO Transit from municipalities and creating a new operating authority to co-ordinate services -- freeing up an immediate $100 million a year for GTA municipalities with local transit systems; Winding down the Greater Toronto Services Board; Making funding for municipal transportation, including roads and bridges, a priority for the second phase of the Ontario Small Town and Rural Development initiative; and Continuing to improve Ontario's highways with a minimum $10 billion private sector and government investment over the next 10 years.
"This is clearly an important opportunity for all orders of government to work together on improving how we move people and goods in Ontario," said Ann Mulvale, President of the Association of Municipalities of Ontario. "Now that the province and municipalities are at the table, I trust that the federal government will soon join us."
"Our made-in-Ontario Smart Growth vision is designed to help foster growth, while protecting our high quality of life," said Harris. "A strong transit and transportation system is key to that vision."
For more information:
Premier's Media Office
The Honourable Cam Jackson
Minister of Citizenship
400 University Avenue, 6th Floor
Toronto Ontario M7A 2R9
Those in the community who live with disabilities on a daily basis have long waited for the adoption of an Ontario Disabilities Act. More than five (5) years have passed since Premier Mike Harris promised that his government would pass an Ontario Disabilities Act in this province. Ontarians have failed to see the results of the promises from 1995.
Last spring your government pledged to bring forward an Ontario Disabilities Act during the fall session. Ontarians would be thrilled to see you bring forward an act that resulted in improved opportunity and accessibility for members of the disabled community. Likewise, as the Critic for Persons With Disabilities, I would also applaud the implementation of legislation that contained substance and resulted in meaningful improvements for the disabled.
Mr. David Lepofsky, Chair of the Ontarians With Disabilities Committee, has forwarded me a copy of his request to have an open and accessible forum during discussion of the government's promised ODA bill this fall. Minister, I urge you on behalf of the many members of the disabled community, to ensure that persons with disabilities will have adequate notice of the introduction, discussion and voting associated with your ODA bill. This will provide them with the time to arrange travel as well as being assured that the Legislature will accommodate their presence in the house during all aspects of the long anticipated ODA bill.
I am looking forward to the introduction of your proposed legislation and trust that you will consider the request for a transparent and accessible processing of the ODA bill this fall.
Ontario Hansard September 27, 2001
Mr Steve Peters (Elgin-Middlesex-London): I have a petition to
the Legislative Assembly of Ontario.
"Whereas Ontario disability support program recipients have not
received a cost-of-living increase since 1987; and
"Whereas the cost of living in Ontario has increased in every one
of the years since, especially for basic needs such as housing,
food, utilities, transportation, clothing and household goods;
"Whereas Ontarians with disabilities are recognized under the
Ontario Disability Support Program Act, and as such have the
right to have their basic needs met, including adequate housing
and a proper and healthy diet; and
"Whereas their basic needs are no longer being met because the
Mike Harris government has not increased the shelter and basic
needs allowances for the nearly 190,000 Ontarians on ODSP, and
because cost-of-living increases in CPP benefits are clawed back;
"Whereas a new Ontarians with Disabilities Act that would
otherwise protect thousands of vulnerable people in Ontario who
rely on ODSP has not been introduced;
"Therefore, we, the undersigned citizens of Ontario, petition the
Legislative Assembly of Ontario to provide a cost-of-living
increase of 2% per year retroactive to 1987, with a continued
annual indexing at 2.4%, to give ODSP clients the dignity of a
I will affix my signature hereto.
From the American Press News Service September 27, 2001:
Gaps Seen in Evacuation for Disabled
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
September 28, 2001
NEW YORK (AP) -- It's one of the best-known stories of the World
Trade Center disaster: Michael Benfante and a friend plucking a
woman from her wheelchair in a 68th-floor office and bringing her
Benfante, 36, recalled that when he encountered the woman, there
was a lightweight emergency chair folded up nearby that was
designed for getting a disabled person down stairs.
But "nobody was doing anything," he said. So he unfolded the
chair and strapped the woman in. While the chair was designed to
be mobile, he said he and a friend decided to simply carry her in
it because she was light.
Benfante's experience raises a question that extends beyond the
Sept. 11 disaster: Just how well prepared are big office
buildings to evacuate disabled employees?
It's not clear how common special evacuation provisions for
disabled workers are in such buildings. One expert said that
concern shouldn't be used to limit where disabled people can
work; another recommended that employees with disabilities take
an active role in making sure their needs are anticipated.
June Kailes, a Los Angeles consultant on disability issues who
works on disaster preparedness, said disabled workers should be
involved in drawing up evacuation plans.
"People with disabilities need to be consulted and at the table
as these plans are really put together, reviewed and practiced,"
Special planning for disabled workers is essentially required
under the Americans with Disabilities Act for buildings with
evacuation plans, although the act doesn't impose specific
requirements, said Larry Perry, author of a building managers
guide to emergency planning.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration says employees
should be made aware of disabled colleagues who may need extra
help in evacuating, possibly through a buddy system.
Perry said he believes most large buildings with evacuation plans
have special provisions for the disabled. Those include things
like the special emergency chairs for stairs and designating
people to help disabled workers.
Edwina Juillet, head of an organization called Fire and Life
Safety for Persons with Disabilities, believes many large
buildings have such procedures in place.
"But are they universally understood by the people who are going
to be affected by them? No," she said. "They're not being
Brian Black, director of building codes and standards for the
Eastern Paralyzed Veterans Association, said his own experience
is that while large buildings generally do have evacuation plans,
provisions for disabled workers are "hit and miss."
Black says the greater threat to safety for disabled people is
the fire danger at home.
"I certainly share the concern of others around the country about
keeping people safe no matter where they are, and being disabled
shouldn't make any difference," he said. "But the unfortunate
thing is we're all looking at this type of problem, when in fact
the problem ... is in residential construction."
Marcie Roth, director of advocacy and public policy at the
National Council on Independent Living, said plans to evacuate
workers with limited mobility could benefit able-bodied people as
well, because they may become injured in an emergency.
She also said concern over evacuation safety for disabled people
shouldn't be used to limit where they are allowed to work or go.
"Some people have suggested we need to be thinking about who
works on what floors. I think that's ridiculous," Roth said. "We
have lots and lots of tall buildings in this country. Assisting
people out of those tall buildings is a challenge, but it's not a
challenge that's specific to people with disabilities."
On the Net:
Federal publication, "Emergency Procedures for Employees with
Disabilities in Office Occupancies:"
Red Cross information:
Disaster preparedness information for people with disabilities:
Report, "Disaster Mitigation for Persons with Disabilities"
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Last updated October 10, 2001